Corbett's DEP Approves Grant To Industry-Linked Group To Tell Us Gas Drilling Is Safe
September 8, 2014

Things like this are part of the reason why Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett is running 25 points behind in the polls. His utterly shameless shilling on behalf of the fracking industry is repellent to ordinary citizens. Imagine, a grant for "independent" research going to an industry-backd group -- and we're not supposed to notice:

The state Department of Environmental Protection has approved a $150,000 grant earmarked in the state budget for “independent research regarding natural gas drilling” to an industry-backed nonprofit organization.

The funding was approved on a non-competitive basis– other groups were not able to apply for the money.

The Pittsburgh-based Shale Alliance for Energy Research (SAFER PA) was formed as a partnership between industry and academia. Its board includes two representatives from Pennsylvania universities and five members from the oil and gas industry. SAFER PA’s president, Patrick Findle, heads the Pittsburgh office of the Gas Technology Institute– an Illinois nonprofit that conducts research for gas companies. In 2012 Findle also served as the research committee vice chair of the industry group, the Marcellus Shale Coalition.

Reached by phone, Findle declined to comment and refused to even confirm that SAFER PA was working with DEP. He asked that all questions for this story be emailed to him and did not respond to the email.

The DEP did not respond to repeated requests to comment.

“We frequently see this in the budget– line-items designed so only one entity is able to acquire it.” says Barry Kauffman of the government reform group, Common Cause PA. “Hopefully that’s not the situation here because we need unbiased research. One would hope this group was not selected because it would produce a predetermined outcome.”

SAFER PA describes itself as a way to, “proactively engage stakeholders and generate independent science to help fill the gap between environmental and industry constituents.” In 2011 the organization was mentioned in a report by Governor Corbett’s Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission as an academic effort that should be supported.

None of the university professors from the SAFER PA board– representing Penn State, Drexel, and the University of Pittsburgh– would comment for this story.

A Penn State spokeswoman says Dr. John Hellman, an engineering professor who is listed as the vice chair of SAFER PA’s board, left the group due to his busy schedule.

To date, SAFER PA has published one report on its website– a handbook for homeowners with private water wells. The booklet was written by Groundwater and Environmental Services, Inc. — an engineering company that does the majority of its business with oil and gas companies.

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